Economics was my first research topic in STS, with my PhD research focussing
on the Panel of Independent Forecasters appointed to advise the UK government
following its exit from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in September
My work on economics foreshadows some of my more recent concerns with the
single european currency and expertise,
but also shows how mainstream STS perspectives can be used to understand the
economic modelling and forecasting that are central to policy advice. My most
recent publication on economics returns to macroeconomic forecasting and examines
its practice and use through the lens of the ‘Periodic Table of Expertises’.
This work was published as:
Evans, R J (2007) ‘Social Networks and Private Spaces in Economic Forecasting’ in Collins, H M (ed) ‘Case Studies of Expertise and Experience’, special issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 38(4): 657-666. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsa.2007.09.003>
The Panel of Independent Forecasters provided a novel variation on the typical STS controversy study. One of the concerns expressed after the UK's exit from the ERM was the idea that the government, and in particular the Treasury, had not considered all the options properly. The members of the Panel of Independent Forecasters were thus chosen to represent the full range of economic opinion but also to provide robust advice to the Chancellor. The fact that they generally did manage this feat says something interesting about the nature of economcis and, perhaps, the character of the advisers chosen. A review of the panel's work was published by Alan Budd (1999) discusses these events from the perspective of someone at the heart of the process, whilst my own work can be summarised as follows:
The work on economics is the basis of several of my early publications in STS, the first of which was:
Evans, Robert (1997) 'Soothsaying or Science: Falsification, Uncertainty and Social Change in Macro-econometric Modelling', Social Studies of Sciences, 27 (3), (1997) 395-438. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/030631297027003002>
This paper describes how economic forecasterss can dispute the correct interpretation of data and evidence. It shows why controversy can seem endemic in economics but is not particularly critical of this. Instead it suggests that a more useful way to understand what forecasters do is to see them as engaged in making judgements about the future rather than deterministic predictions.
My work on the Panel of Forecasters has also been published as a monograph:
Evans, Robert (1999) Macroeconomic Forecasting: A Sociological Appraisal. Routledge: London (1999)
This includes a discussion of economic forecasting, but also examines their meetings and debates in more detail. The aim is to show that, rather than removing the politics from economics, economic models are the place where the politics gets put in. Choosing between different models implies choosing between different types of socio-economic futures and the advantage of the Panel of Forecasters was they made these choices visible.
Similar themes also appear in a couple of other paper based on this work:
Evans, Robert (1998) 'Economic Models: The Past, Present and Future?', Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal: Special Issue on the Use of Models in Policy, 16(2) (1998) 115-122.
Evans, Robert (1999) 'Economic Models and Policy Advice: Theory Choice or Moral Choice?', Science in Context 12(2) (1999) 351-376.
Budd, Alan (1999), ‘Learning from the Wise
People’, The Manchester School, Vol 67, Issue 1 (supplement), pp. 36–48.
Last updated on 14 December, 2007